Friendships are important for your children…and they can be complicated! As human being we need to know that we belong and that we matter. One of the important ways we do that is through our relationships with our peers. Of course as a parent, you want your child to have lots of good friends and few disappointments. And, it doesn’t always work that way. Part of learning how to have friends involves lots of ups and downs.
Some children have an easier time building friendships than others – just as some find learning to ride a bike or learning to read easier than others. And like learning to ride a bike or reading, supporting and listening to your child friendship challenges (without pushing) helps. Here are some ideas for ways to support your child in developing friendships.
- Be a model. Make time for your own friends – even in the midst of your busy parenting life. Your kids are always watching and when they see you being a good friend and talking about your experience it helps them learn how to be with their friends.
- Share stories about some of your childhood friends and some of the things you did together. Remember to include some of the things that worked well and when they didn’t. For example, “I was good friends with Alyssa in 4th grade and then a new girl, Emily, joined our class. I remember how Alyssa seemed to like Emily more and my feelings were hurt. I probably wasn’t very nice to Emily for a while. Eventually we all three became good friends.”
- Listen. When friendships are going through a rough spot listen. Don’t try to fix or to make your child feel better This can be hard for us because we feel their pain. Breathe through it and just practice being present. Ask your child how they would like you to help.
- Support inclusion. Encourage your children to be includers rather than excluders as much as possible. Help them see other children’s strengths and support their ability to engage people who aren’t exactly like them.
- Support conflict resolution. Part of being in a friendship is that conflict will come up. Uncomfortable situations such as teasing, a difference of opinion, losing, or being left out will arise. Support your child to be able to deal with these issues on their own rather than just running to an adult for help. You can practice at home how to talk it out using “I” messages” or “Bugs and Wishes”, cooling off, and turn taking.
- Plan ahead with siblings. Aaah… when one child has a friend over, have you noticed that the other sibling(s) can be a bit obnoxious. Often, they feel left out. Planning ahead makes a big difference. “When Jamie has a friend over tomorrow, what are we going to do so you can have fun without interrupting them?”
Navigating friendships with electronic devices and social media is a challenge for 21st century parents. Many of our children are used to communicating and creating connections over the airwaves. While there is some sense of connection, it is not nearly as satisfying as playing together in person – yet for some kids it feels less risky and it is an ever-present reality. As our children learn to deal with the pressure of digital relationships it is important to be open and honest about the risks and challenges. You can work on prevention and support problem solving too. Some strategies to practice include, “Pause. Think before you text.” Or, “Only post what you would say to the person’s face (with a parent standing there).” Create guidelines around the use of social media with your child. It takes courage and effort to show up and risk disappointment, boredom or frustration with a friend, and the benefits of real human connection are powerful. It is important to practice social skills, play and collaborate in person. Make sure your children have time to play with others without their electronic devices too.